|The New Testament writers as well as the father of the church saw the entire story
of God from Genesis through Revelation, from creation to re-creation through the incarnation,
death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.1|
He is the greatest display of grace and the greatest embodiment of grace.
It is now only for us to know who He is, what He has done and who we are in Him.
Regardless of the act God takes toward His creation, grace colors all of it. All acts of God are acts of condescension when directed toward creation in general and humanity in particular. We live and move and have our being because God is gracious.
When we unpack the Story we see how God put in play two vital elements that will control the rest of the Story. First, He made a promise to the rebel, "The seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent and the serpent's seed will bruise His heel" (Gen. 3:15). The entire Scripture prior to the fulfillment in Jesus Christ is a keeping of the promise. Second, He gave a picture, a visual of what the redeeming of debt and the adopting of sons/daughters will look like in the slaying of an innocent animal, the shedding of blood, and the clothing of their nakedness in the provision of the innocent (Gen. 3:21).
All of Scripture speaks to this Story. "The Bible obviously covers a great deal of ground. But there is one supreme subject that binds it all together: Jesus Christ and the salvation God offers through him."2 The Old Testament traces God keeping His promise through a specific seed. It tells of the constant conflict between the seed of the woman and that of the serpent. In addition, blood sacrifices keep the picture ever before the people of God.3
The incarnation of Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the promise and His life and death are the completion of the picture. This Story is a story of gracious humiliation whereby God would dwell with man in order that man might dwell with God.
This study attempts to help us understand how grace forms the foundation on which the Story rests and how Jesus Christ is the fullest expression and embodiment of God's gracious condescension.
As noted earlier, grace exists because we exist. Creating is a gracious act. Creation's rebellion against God and the redemption of debt and the adoption of offspring is equally gracious. The intent of this study is to explore the magnitude of grace in and through the person and work of Jesus Christ in the securing of His people for Himself. God's grace reigns over His people. Romans 5:20, 21 presents this idea.
|"The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded
all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness
to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 5:20, 21).|
Where once sin and death reigned, now grace reigns. God's hero conquered His perennial adversary,
and by right of conquest, He reigns. Reigning suggests supremacy, power, control, and sway.
Jesus in grace reigns over His people. The language is kingdom and conquest.
We are the citizens of His reign. Grace marks His administration.4 Grace reigns because the cross still stands.
No area of life can escape His grace. As noted in chapter one, Charles Ryrie correctly observes its importance
with the following statement: "Christianity is distinct from all other religions because it is a message of grace.
Jesus Christ is the supreme revelation of God's grace; salvation is by grace; and grace governs and empowers
Christian living. Without grace Christianity is nothing."5
We will start our study by defining what grace is.
WHAT IS GRACE?
What is grace? What does it mean to be under grace? Are grace and law antithetical? Initially we must understand how God is intrinsically gracious. He acts graciously in creating, and grace embodied is the incarnation of Jesus Christ. To assist us in understanding the magnitude of this idea we will consider the word itself as found in the Bible.
Several times the word grace (charis) is translated with "thank" (Luke 6:32-34), "favor" (Luke 1:30; 2:52; Acts 2:47; 25:3), "liberality" (1 Cor. 16:3), "benefit" (2 Cor. 1:15) and elsewhere with "pleasure" (Acts 24:27; 25:9). Yet apart from a handful of exceptions, our English word "grace" translates the Greek word charis.
What does the word mean and how does it occur? The Greek word charis occurs 156 times throughout the
New Testament. It has come to mean, "God's undeserved, unearned, and undesired favor toward condemned sinners."
What this tells us is God did not have to do what He did, but He did what He did not have to do.
There was nothing within humanity moving God to act in a gracious manner toward us. The motive for grace
rests solely in God. As we seek to understand what grace means, it is always helpful to note how others
have come to understand the idea of grace.
DEFINITIONS OF GRACE
|Paul speaks in Acts (20:24) of 'the gospel of the grace of God'. But what is grace?
Grace is not a 'thing' - a heavenly gas, a pseudo-substance, which can be passed to and fro or pumped
down pipelines. The word 'grace' is a shorthand way of speaking about God himself, the God who loves
totally and unconditionally, whose love overflows in self-giving in creation, in redemption, in rooting
out evil and sin and death from his world, in bringing to life that which was dead. Paul's gospel reveals
this God in all his grace, all his love. 6
|Grace is God's free and unmerited favor shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgment.
It is the love of God shown to the unlovely. It is God reaching downward to people who are in
rebellion against Him.7
|ALVA J. MCCLAIN|
|Grace is the unmerited favor of God in Christ.8
|Grace is a message of unconditional love from the Father of the universe.
It's the free offer of eternal life.9
|J. CARL LANEY, JR.|
|Grace, simply stated, is God's unmerited favor granted to those who deserve His wrath.10
|Grace is unmerited favor which is given to all who come to God for salvation through His Son,
the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace is, [however], more than unmerited favor. It is reality.
[Either your emotional response to your experience or your theology will create your reality.
You must interpret your experience by your theology or you will have no objective means of living biblically.]
By grace you live, by grace you please God, and by grace you are freed from religion and released into a
relationship with your heavenly Father. Grace is always based on who He is and what He has done.
Grace is never based on who you are apart from Him or on what you can do.11
|CHARLES C. RYRIE|
|Grace is the favor of God in giving His Son and the benefit to men of receiving that Son.
The lavish gift of God in the person of His Son is the particularly New Testament meaning of grace.
This grace is absolutely free. When that grace which was revealed in Christ is received by the believer,
it then governs spiritual life by compounding favor upon favor.12
|To show grace is to extend favor or kindness to one who doesn't deserve it and can never earn it.
One more thing should be emphasized about grace: It is absolutely and totally free. You will never be asked
to pay it back.13
|MARS HILL CHURCH|
|Here's my definition of grace. Grace is God the Father, in love, doing good for ill-deserving sinners,
through God the Son, by God the Spirit. So, grace is Trinitarian. It comes from God the Father, through God the Son,
by God the Spirit. It is God's love in action.14
|"Grace is the pleasure of God to magnify the worth of God by giving sinners the right and power to
delight in God without obscuring the glory of God."15
|Cremer sums up the NT meaning of charis in these words: 'Charis has been distinctively appropriated
in the NT to designate the relation and conduct of God towards sinful man as revealed in and through Christ,
especially as an act of spontaneous favor, of favor wherein no mention can be made of obligation' (p. 574).16
All that we are, all that we have, and all that we ever hope to be are firmly rooted in the soil of God's Son. It is because of this, "Grace is the peculiar property of the Christian religion, and Christianity gave grace a meaning it never had before."17 Although it is difficult to accept initially, when speaking of God's grace we need to understand how the favor of God rests upon those who believe because of position not performance. The blessing of God is because of location not action. The blessing of God upon us is rooted in whom we are, not what we do.
Because this is true, we cannot reverse God's gracious actions toward us. We cannot alter all God
has done and is doing in us, for us, and through us.
CATEGORIZING ITS OCCURANCES
To facilitate our understanding of grace it is necessary for us to categorize its various occurrences as it occurs
throughout the New Testament. There are four primary categorizes.
I. The embodiment of grace occurs in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
|Most of all, that's why, at the crux of history, the spiritual reality at the center of
the universe actually took on natural, physical form. In Jesus, flesh and Spirit intersect.
In him, natural and spiritual reality combine. And that's why, when we keep our eyes and hearts
centered on him and his grace, we have the best chance of keeping all our shadows in perspective.
John uses the word grace (charis) three times. Jesus is identified in the incarnation as being full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
|"And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten
from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).|
His coming marked a shift in the telling of God's Story (Eph. 3:2).
|"if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you;
that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief" (Eph. 3:2, 3).|
In Christ, God's hero arrives and with Him comes a powerful display of grace and truth. With the coming of Jesus Christ, additional revelation will come to the apostle Paul (v.3). Paul will become a primary presenter of Jesus Christ.
When the second member of the Godhead became "flesh," we had the greatest display of grace and the greatest embodiment of truth. When speaking of this idea theologically, the incarnation is the product whereas the kenosis of Philippians 2 is the process whereby God became man.
|The personal union is the taking of human nature by the second person of the deity
so as to subsist inseparable in the same person, John 1:14.19||OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST is a unique person, not in our contemporary watered-down sense of
'unusual' but in the absolute meaning of 'one of a kind.' He is the theanthropic person,
the God-Man. As such he is the permanent joining of the eternal Word, the second person
of the triune Godhead, with humanity.20
Grace moved Christ to the kenosis and incarnation (2 Cor. 8:9).
|"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake
He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich" (2 Cor. 8:9).|
When God took on a human nature, He condescended. In the incarnation the second member of the Godhead stooped, He lowered Himself. This is why Paul tells us in Philippians 2:8 "He humbled Himself." He became what He had created. At this moment, such a thought escapes us. Yet the Creator became that which He had created. It was not simply an identification or association, but an actual "becoming" (Rom. 1:3; Gal. 4:4; Phil. 2:7 [each uses ginomai, "To become"]).
|The Second Person of the Holy Trinity, without ceasing to be what he is, God the son,
took into union with himself what he before that act did not possess, a human nature,
'and so [He] was and continues to be God and man in two distinct natures and one person, forever'
([Emphasis added] Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q.21).21|
Such an action on His part is called "grace." "The lavish gift of God in the person of His Son is the particularly New Testament meaning of grace. This is why it is quite true to say that charis is a word that has been raised to a higher level and filled with new meaning by our Lord Jesus Christ."22
The word "full" in John 1:14 means "to be filled up" (as opposed to empty) or "to be lacking nothing, to be perfect."
|"And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the
only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).|
There were displays of grace prior to the coming of Christ but in contrast to Him, they appear as shallow pools. "The Old Testament Law (a token of grace) is replaced by the revelation through Christ (a new grace)."23 In addition, in Christ the displaying of grace is perfect and lacking nothing. With Christ nothing more can be said. Our quest now is to know Him. He is grace. There is nothing His people need that they do not already have in Him. Consider the statement of John 1:16.
|"From the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another" (John 1:16 NIV).|
|"We have all benefited from the rich blessings he brought to us - one gracious blessing after another" (John 1:16 NLT).|
Can we not hear the echo of Ephesians 1:3 and Romans 8:32 in our ears?
|"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3).|
|"He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32).|
Romans 8:32 uses charizomai "freely given" which comes from the same root as charis. There is no end to God's grace since the resource is exceedingly rich (Eph. 2:7; 3:8).
|"So that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in
Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:7).|
|"To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles
the unfathomable riches of Christ" (Eph. 3:8).|
We can neither fathom nor exhaust Christ. What He is for us is infinite. Jesus is to us "wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30). Often we say, "Now you've gone and done it" or, "Man, did I really blow it this time," as if to suggest such action on our part is going to test or stretch the grace of God. Grace exceeds the need because Christ is infinite. His actions towards the rebel remove any residue of the offense. Nothing is left. John 1:17 begins with a small preposition meaning "because or for this reason." It explains what preceded.
|"For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).|
The opulence or lavishness of God's blessings are in the coming of Christ. With Him or "on account of" Him we have all things. Without Him, we have nothing. It is for this reason we must say, "Jesus plus nothing equals everything; everything minus Jesus equals nothing."24 Grace and truth are "on account of" Him. To take Him away leaves us with nothing. Jesus Christ is the abundance of the blessing we seek. He is the favor we long for. Yet is not the substance often overlooked for the shadow? When we ask God to bless us, we often ask for the shadow and not the substance. We have embraced the gift of grace and have failed to embrace the giver of grace. How have we missed this?
|Shadows can only give you limited facts about reality. They can point to reality by giving
information about the general shape of the object, but it's dangerous to try to determine all
the facts about something by just looking at its shadow. To understand reality, you must see
the substance, not just the shadow.25|
Notice that all these shadow are useful and important. They help us understand some things about spiritual reality; they give us clues as to what the substance is like. The problem comes when we forget that shadows are not the substance.
The incarnate Christ is the embodiment of grace. Jesus brought grace and truth. It stands in contrast to the Law and Moses (John 1:17).
|"For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).|
This does not mean grace was not present with the Law, but it does mean the display of grace and the articulation of truth will now reach an unprecedented height.26 Knowing the incarnate Christ embodies grace, let us now consider its application in the area of salvation. The second category for grace in the New Testament is as follows.
II. The expression of grace as seen in the area of salvation.
|By grace alone is from the Latin Sola gratia, one of the five Solas of the Reformation emphasizing
that our justification before God and our resulting salvation are both solely by the sovereign
distinguishing grace of God and not dependant on any action or condition provided by man.27|
Acts 11:21-23 speaks of Barnabas seeing the grace of God evidenced in the salvation of the lost.
|"And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.
The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch.
Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all
with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord" (Acts 11:21-23).|
Salvation displays God's grace (Acts 11:21-23). This is an expansive and heavily emphasized element throughout the New Testament. In the incarnation, God became man. A primary purpose for the incarnation is redemptive. This is notable in the following three passages.
In the saving of man, God graced him. He condescended. Without grace, humanity could not be saved. God had to give him something that he did not deserve nor could merit. Salvation is coming to know the grace of God in truth (Col. 1:6).
|"which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing,
even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of
God in truth" (Col. 1:6).|
There are three points worth noting in this verse:
The NIV translates the word with "understood." The noun epiginosis is used four times in Colossians (1:9, 10; 2:2; 3:10). However, before we get ahead of ourselves please note what had proceeded "to know"? It is the idea of "heard." Why is this significant? Because Romans 10:17 affirms that, "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God." We must preach the grace of God to the lost in order that they might hear and know.
There was a point in time when we both heard and came to know.
The immediate proximity of verse six to verse five indicates a parallel statement between the two.
|"because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth,
the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit
and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and
understood the grace of God in truth" (Col. 1:5, 6).|
The grace of God is found in the truth of the gospel. God reveals grace in the second member of the Godhead becoming man. Consider the magnitude of God's humiliation and grace. In the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Creator would "become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:8). The giver of life would offer up His life on behalf of the dead. The Lawgiver would be delivered into the hands of those who are without law (Acts 2:23 ["wicked hands"). At the hands of warmongers, the prince of peace dies. The creation of His own hands would entomb the Father of all things.
We must make no mistake here. It is "on account of" Jesus Christ we have received grace (Rom. 1:5).
|"who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead,
according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace
and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake"
(Rom. 1:4, 5).27|
God graced us for the exaltation of His name. This is the ultimate reason why God manifests His actions from the platform of grace. "To receive" speaks of "laying hold of something or someone." We did not take something that was not being offered. We received something that was being extended to us as a gift (Rom. 6:23).
|"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23).|
The gift of the grace of God comes to us through Jesus Christ. To have salvation in Christ is to receive an abundance of grace ("an exceeding measure overflowing something above the ordinary", "a surplus of abundance"28 [Rom. 5:17]).
|"For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who
receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One,
Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:17).|
Such grace presents the recipient with an abundance of righteousness and eternal life. As saved individuals, we are the recipients of an abundant gifting of righteousness. We cannot merit it. We do not deserve it. It is ours solely because of God's gracious dealings toward us. To remove Him from the equation negates the action. We cannot have grace apart from Christ.
In Acts 15, we have a narrative dealing with the issue of Law observance for Gentile believers. The issue comes to a head in verses 10 and 11.
|"Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke
which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?
'But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as
they also are'" (Acts. 15:10, 11).|
The contrast could not be greater. Verse 11 begins with alla. The NIV translates this with "No!" Grace moves us to believe. Moreover, grace saves us. Salvation is because of the grace of Jesus Christ (Acts 15:11) as opposed to the works of the Law. Paul's emphatic statement is that both Jew and Gentile are saved by grace through faith alone.
We are freely justified (Rom. 3:24) by his grace because of redemption. His grace makes it free of charge to us. Yet the Father still has a tangible and concrete basis for acting in the way He did. The redemption of Christ gives Him the reason or grounds for acting toward us freely in our justification. Consider the ideas contained in Romans 3:24.
|"Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:24).|
Friend, we are the greater debtor before God. How tragic that we have chosen to live such petty lives. How well do we forgive others? Do we forgive based on God's forgiveness of us? Consider also the statement of Luke 7:36-50. Twice in our passage Jesus uses the word "forgive" both in verse 42 and in verse 43.
|"'When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will
love him more?' Simon answered and said, 'I suppose the one whom he forgave more.'
And He said to him, 'You have judged correctly'" (Luke 7:42, 43).|
It is the word "grace" (charizomai). The only way we will begin to see the power of grace is when we see ourselves for what we are. Look at Ephesians 4:32.
|"Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ
also has forgiven you" (Eph. 4:32).|
The operative word is "forgiving." Without surprise the word is charizomai. It is the same word in Romans 8:32 ("freely given"). We are debtors before God and the only way out is for someone else to pay it for us. God dismissed the debt, but not without just cause. The theology contained in our passage is too great to note at this time. Yet we would be in error if we did not at least note the words: justification (v. 24), redemption (v. 24), propitiation (v. 25), imputation, forgiveness, and atonement (4:6, 8). All this is because of grace. Before we leave this area, let us consider one more thing.
Regardless as to how one views election, the act itself rests on grace (Rom. 11:5). Election does not happen because of works (e.g., human merit, initiative, or action). Grace and works as meriting agents before God are mutually exclusive. According to Ephesians 1, our election by God (v. 1) and adoption into His family is to the praise of the glory of His grace. His grace makes us accepted in the beloved (v. 6). The glory of His grace and the riches of it (v. 7) produced for us acceptance (v. 6), redemption, and forgiveness (v. 7). Just how glorious is His grace? Who can begin to sound out the depth of its abundant resource? The quickening of the dead is an act of grace (Eph. 2:5). The exceeding riches of His grace happens in the salvation of the unworthy (Eph. 2:7).
|"so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward
us in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:7).|
He uses the word "huperballo." It means "to surpass in throwing, to throw beyond." As a participle, it "is used in the sense of surpassing, extraordinary, outstanding."31 He uses the same word in Ephesians 1:19 as well as in Ephesians 3:19. God's grace is way beyond the need.
Paul captures this same idea in Romans 5. He uses the word perissea in Romans 5:17 and huperperisseia in Romans 5:20. The interesting contrast in verse 20 is between the super abounding (pleonazo) of sin and "to abound beyond measure, to abound exceedingly, to overflow" of grace. Notice Paul's use of the prefix "huper." "The great apostle was fond of compounds with hyper, the equivalent of the Latin super. He believed ardently and enthusiastically in a super religion - not just barely getting by, but an abundant life in Christ Jesus."32
|"For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who
receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One,
Jesus Christ. . . The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin
increased, grace abounded all the more" (Rom. 5:17, 20).|
The grace extended in salvation is a gift from God (Eph 2:8) and is the direct opposite of works. Faith and grace appear to be symmetric (Rom. 4:16). We are simply to believe what God has said is true. Faith is not a work. Faith is the action of saying yes to all God has proclaimed.
All that we have is because Jesus Christ became man. In this act, we see the greatest display of grace ever seen in human history. Friend, if the grace of God is much more than the need, then how have we chosen to think? Have we chosen to think like a spiritual pauper or have we set our mind on the higher ground of God's overflowing grace? May God continue to knit our hearts together in our common pursuit of our uncommon God. This leads us to our third category for grace in the New Testament.
III. The endurance of grace as seen in the perseverance of the saints and progressive sanctification.
What begins as a consequence of grace continues in the same vein. The provision of grace is so much more than the debt of sin (Rom. 5:20). "Your needs and My (Jesus) riches are a perfect fit."33
|"The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all
the more" (Rom. 5:20).|
Grace swallows up the debt of sin. Grace is so powerful that it removes all traces of sin's presence in the life of God's people. We will need to expand on this thought later, but for now, as believers, we practice our position. Where once sin reigned, now grace reigns (Rom. 5:21).
|"so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life
through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 5:21).|
Grace reigns on account of Jesus Christ our Lord. Grace reigns because Jesus reigns. The reign of Christ is a grace reign. We are under His reign of grace. Yet sin continues in this physical body of flesh. His people still experience sin. We experience sin. I experience sin.
Let us consider the idea of sin as seen through the eyes of grace. Sin and grace are mutually exclusive. Grace repels sin (Rom. 6:1, 15). Grace is not a license to sin. Freedom from sin is not a freedom to sin.
|Jesus will save us away from (apo) as well as out of (ex) our sins. They will be cast into oblivion
and he will cover them up out of sight.34|
|This shall be his great business in the world: the great errand on which he is come, viz. to make
an atonement for, and to destroy, sin: deliverance from all the power, guilt, and pollution of sin,
is the privilege of every believer in Christ Jesus. Less than this is not spoken of in the Gospel;
and less than this would be unbecoming the Gospel. The perfection of the Gospel system is not that
it makes allowances for sin, but that it makes an atonement for it: n
ot that it tolerates sin, but
that it destroys it.35|
|This is the great business of Jesus in coming and dying. It is not to save men IN their sins,
but FROM their sins.36|
|Jesus meets us in our sin, but His purpose is to save us from them[;] first from the penalty of sin,
then from the power of sin, and finally from the presence of sin.37|
One does not abuse grace when they sin. Grace does not encourage or incite sinful desires and activities. An abused grace is an unknown grace. To know grace is to resist sin. As one who is under grace, we are no longer under the dominion of sin.
|Preaching grace is not only risky, but the fact that some take it to an unwise extreme
is proof that a minister is indeed preaching the true grace of God.38|
|The only reason Christians raise the why-not-keep-on-sinning question is that they don't
fully understand the gospel. What licentious people need is a greater understanding of grace,
not a governor on grace. Contrary to what we would naturally conclude, the antidote to lawlessness
isn't more rules but a deeper grasp of God's grace.39|
Do you think the sinner abuses grace? Nay, they do not know the riches of His grace! The sinner sees grace and sovereignty as an opportunity to sin. The believer sees both as a comfort and strength in weakness. Oh, to be consumed with the passion to sound out the unsearchable riches of His exceedingly glorious grace. This is God's Story. The Gospel calls us to this legacy. We need God to show us the glory of His grace (Exod. 33:18; 34:6).
|"Then Moses said, 'I pray You, show me Your glory!'" (Exod. 33:18).|
|"The LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD.
Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, 'The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate
and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth;
who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will
by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the
grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.' Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth
and worship" (Exod. 34:5-8).|
Grace purifies; grace obeys; grace moves; grace loves. God the Father gives grace to us in Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:4; cf. Acts 14:26ff).
|"I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus" (1 Cor. 1:4).|
This is both saving and sanctifying grace. The saved are exhorted to continue in the grace of God (Acts 13:42-48).
|"Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing
proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the
grace of God" (Acts 13:43).|
Why the word "urging?" "Urging" means "to persuade or influence."
|Greek, pathos, for "suffering" or "experience;" adjectival form: 'pathetic' from pathatikos; represents
an appeal to the audience's emotions. Pathos is a communication technique used most often in
There is tremendous emotional appeal made by the apostle to his audience to embrace grace as the umbrella under which they live the Christian life. The idea is that of getting someone to believe what one is saying. Paul strongly urged his audience to remain or persevere in grace. Paul takes the simple word to abide or continue and places before it a prefix thus inflating the idea. When one has begun in grace, they are to continue, ("to remain, persevere, to tarry") in grace. Why the exhortation to continue in grace? We need reminding because the natural tendency is to fall back into the concept of works.
|The enemy will continue to tempt us to work to become what we already are.41|
It is for this reason Tullian Tchividjian reminds us, "Sanctification is the daily hard work of going back to the reality of our justification."42 We must never forget that works and grace are mutually exclusive. Works can neither merit nor maintain what grace grants. Let us note carefully the observation by Jerry Bridges:
|My observation of Christendom is that most of us tend to base our personal relationship
with God on our performance instead of on His grace. If we've performed well -
whatever 'well' is in our opinion - then we expect God to bless us.43|
|Moreover, we are always challenging ourselves and one another to 'try harder.'
We seem to believe success in the Christian life (however we define success) is basically up to us:
our commitment, our discipline, and our zeal, with some help from God along the way.44|
|However, I think most of us actually declared temporary bankruptcy. Having trusted in Christ
alone for our salvation, we have subtly and unconsciously reverted to a works relationship with God
in our Christian lives. We do think they earn God's blessings in our daily lives (p. 17).
We are all legalistic by nature; that is, we innately think so much performance by us earns so much
blessing from God.45|
Tullian Tchividjian echoes this thought when he says,
|Ironically, when we focus mostly on our need to get better, we actually get worse. We become neurotic and
How tragic to think God's enablement means we now work in conjunction with Him as if our work becomes meritorious. His enablement is an efficacious enablement. Works and grace appear to be opposites in this way (Rom. 4:4).
|"Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due.
But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited
as righteousness" (Rom. 4:4, 5).|
Works create debt and receives a wage, but grace creates no debt. If grace creates debt, then there is obligation with the recipient to repay. He now owes. Yet grace does not work in the area of obligation, deficiency, or debt. Our sanctification or good works or "living the Christian life" is not the paying off of debt. If debt, we work from fear. If grace, we serve from love. The believer is to "stand in grace" (Rom. 5:2). "Christ is not only the Door but also the One who stands there to welcome us in."47
|"Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand;
and we exult in hope of the glory of God" (Rom. 5:1, 2).|
Paul's statement is in the perfect active indicative. This is a past fact with ongoing results. Grace causes us to "exult in hope of the glory of God." Jesus Christ opens up to us grace (Rom. 5:2). As believers we are standing in grace. As we will see, this is a consistent appeal throughout the New Testament. "Grace is here present as a field into which we have been introduced and where we stand and we should enjoy all the privileges of this grace about us."48 It is impossible not to see how Jesus Christ is synonymous with grace. Nothing can alter this glorious standing. Grace works hope in the life of its recipients. Such grace is found only in Christ and in Christ alone. Peter uses the same construction of the apostle Paul in 1 Peter 5:12 as Paul did in Romans 5:2.
|"Through Silvanus, our faithful brother (for so I regard him), I have written to you briefly,
exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it!" (1 Pet. 5:12).|
By implication, Peter suggests that there could be a false grace. What is a false grace? It is a grace that is coupled together with works. It is a grace that "has begun in the Spirit, but believes you are now made perfect by the flesh" (Gal. 3:3). A grace that depends on God (i.e. monergistic) in justification but looks to man (i.e. synergistic) in sanctification is a false grace.
|In fact, when it comes to Christian life and experience, many of us have understood the gospel
as the thing that gets us in, while the thing that then keeps us in (we assume) is our own effort
and performance. We recognize that the gospel ignites the Christian life, but we often fail to see
that it's also the fuel to keep us going and growing as Christians.49|
In Galatians 5:1, Paul uses the word "stand firm" as a present active imperative.
|"It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again
to a yoke of slavery" (Gal. 5:1).|
As a command it speaks of an appeal to our will/volition to continue in standing fast in grace. "[The present tense] indicates a continual and habitual action."50 The idea of standing fast is that of persevering. We must be determined to live and thus rest in grace.51 Paul suggests that both liberty and freedom are synonymous with grace. The word "liberty" and "freedom" come from the same root word. It is used in Galatians 2:4 of those who would seek "to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order that they might bring us into bondage." We are also exhorted not to use the idea of grace for "an occasion to the flesh" (Gal. 5:13).
|"For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the
flesh, but through love serve one another" (Gal. 5:13).|
Notice the contrasting idea of grace. It is that of bondage. The opposite of grace is bondage. To remove oneself from grace is to "be entangled again with the yoke of bondage." Any biblical exposition leading to bondage is the preaching of a false grace.
|Whenever religion becomes leverage, it ceases to be the religion of Jesus.
The gospel of God's grace takes away the leverage. Why? Because if I'm forgiven without condition,
you can't make me feel guilty. If God loves me, you can't manipulate me by threatening to take away you love.
If God knows my secrets and doesn't condemn me, then you can't use my secrets as blackmail.
If you have power and threaten to use it against me and I don't care, then your power ceases to be
Paul's exhortation to Timothy is "to be strong in grace" (2 Tim. 2:1).
|"You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 2:1).|
He uses "be strong" and, like the word for "standing" in Galatians 5:1, it is a present active imperative. This pattern is consistent throughout the New Testament. We as believers are to persevere in grace. We are not to go back to a work mentality nor are we to leave the umbrella of God's grace. In our desire to obey, please, and serve the Father, there is a natural tendency to see such actions on our part as being meritorious. As if to say, "Look what we have done." Yet our "working" is the "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22) and generated solely by our identification in Christ (Gal. 2:20) and thus our abiding in the vine (John 15:5).
It is equally interesting to see how grace and Christ are inseparably linked. So far we've noted how Jesus Christ is grace, thus our salvation and sanctification. Our final category in considering grace is . . .
IV. The example of grace as seen in His service rendered through His saints.
The work of grace by Jesus Christ and through His people is truly unprecedented. First, note a handful of passages exhibiting what His grace toward the undeserving looks like.
All of these passages speak to the abundance of God's grace. A grace that loves without condition, accepts without requirement, forgives without limit, favors without merit, and serves without reward.
Now notice how this grace comes through the believer. Ministry/service/good works are to be identified as an expression of the grace of God (Acts 14:26; 15:40).
|"From there they sailed to Antioch, from which they had been commended to the grace of God for the
work that they had accomplished" (Acts 14:26).|
|"But Paul chose Silas and left, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord" (Acts 15:40).|
The words "commend and commit" are the same in both passages and mean "to surrender, to yield up." It is most often translated by the English word "betray." It has the strong idea of being given over to.53 Paul and Barnabas had been "given over to" the grace of God for the work of the ministry. As servants of God, we are recipients of God's grace, thus stewards and administrators of the same. If God's grace is not operative in ministry, we will fail. Grace keeps us faithful. We are to be ministering grace to others (Eph. 4:29).
|"Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification
according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear" (Eph. 4:29).|
Are we ministers of the true grace of God? How do we become a minister of grace by speaking to others, as we would wish to be spoken to? Jesus Christ embodies grace and truth (John 1:14). He perfectly couples these two ideas. Paul prays for the church of Colossae in order that their "speech always be with grace" (Col. 4:6). There is warmth to gospel-centered ministry. It is not devoid of the "firm" resistance to sin, but such speech is redemptive and not condemnatory (John 3:17). As we minister to others in grace, God is glorified (2 Cor. 8:19).
|"and not only this, but he has also been appointed by the churches to travel with us in this gracious work,
which is being administered by us for the glory of the Lord Himself, and to show our readiness" (2 Cor. 8:19).|
All that we are in ministry is a result of God's grace dealings with us. We have what we have because of grace (Rom. 12:3, 6; Eph. 4:7).
|"For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than
he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure
of faith. . . Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise
them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith" (Rom. 12:3, 6).|
|"But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift" (Eph. 4:7).|
Because it is all of grace, no one can boast; no one can be jealous or contentious or combative. This is Paul's primary point in the Book of Romans. Paul saw his ministry because of grace (Rom. 15:14-16; 1 Cor. 3:10). The overwhelming body of evidence provided for us by the biblical record forces us to conclude, "Salvation by grace; sanctification by grace; service by grace - it seems clear that God's entire program for His people is one of grace from start to finish."54
MAKING THE TRANSFER
Chuck Swindoll gives four practical expectations of embraced grace.
Paul's gospel was of the grace of God (Acts 20:24). Paul recognized that his ministry was given to him by grace and enabled by grace (1 Cor. 15:10; Eph. 3:7, 8; 1 Pet. 4:10). Paul never lost sight of his grace-based ministry (2 Cor. 1:12). We must never forget that all we have and enjoy is a result of grace and empowered by grace. Grace does not exclude our participation. Yet such participation is not to be viewed as an independent contractor, but rather a tool being used by the Master artisan.
Grace as a synonym for our Lord Jesus Christ is as vast and unsearchable as He is. One can never sound out its depth or exhaust its resource. May we truly be a people who are marked by grace as recipients, stewards, and administrators.
How do we know when we have made the transfer? Grace manifests itself primarily in the area of relationships. I once had to respond to someone concerning a situation where an individual had a significant moral lapse. Here is my concluding thought to this person:
|Finally, regardless as to what you and I might believe about this matter, if she is a believer
(which only God can ultimately judge), she is covered by grace. Everything I have ever taught concerning
grace is as applicable to her as to you or me. Wow, that is how wonderful the grace of God is.
My standing and favor before God is based solely on the work of Christ and not on my ability to perform.
God's grace is upon her regardless as to her moral failure. Surely, this simply blows our minds.
Yet I rejoice that this is true, because though my sins are different from hers, they are no less real.
I simply marvel at the grace of God's unconditional favor, blessing, and love.|
Tullian Tchividjian makes the following two statements regarding the freedom we have.
|When you understand that your significance and identity and purpose and direction are all
anchored in Christ, you don't have to win - you're free to lose.56|
|Because Jesus was someone, we're free to be no one. Because Jesus was extraordinary,
we're free to be ordinary.57|
As we will see, the grace of God far exceeds our ability to sound it out. May God use this study to stimulate within us a heart of worship driven by the magnitude of the object pursued.
The Story God wrote includes a fall into sin and an appropriate but horrific consequence. The sin and its demerit accent humanity's inability to erase their shame, fear, and guilt. Only God can do it, and only God does. The fact that He did and does is because of grace. This grace is embodied and displayed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the greatest display of grace and the greatest embodiment of grace. It is now for us to know who He is, what He has done and who we are in Him.
1Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaming and Enacting God's narrative (BakerBooks, 2008), 120.
2 Vaughan Roberts, God's Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible (IVP Books, 2002), 17.
3"The Old Testament on its own is an unfinished story; a promise without a fulfillment. We must read on to the New Testament if we want to know what it really means. And the New Testament constantly looks back to the promise it fulfils." (Roberts, God's Big Picture, 19, 20).
4Ryrie's comments compliment this thought. "Sovereign grace means ruling grace - a picture which the New Testament confirms in such a passage as Hebrews 4:16, where the throne of grace is depicted as the highest court of appeal." Charles Caldwell Ryrie, The Grace of God (Chicago: Moody Press, 1963), 86.
6N.T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Fonder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 61.
7Jerry Bridges, Transforming Grace, (NavPress: Colorado Springs, 1991), 21, 22.
8Alva J. McClain, Law and Grace, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1954), 5.
9Dudley Hall, Grace Works, (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Pub., 2000), 11.
10J. Carl Laney, Jr., "God," in Understanding Christian Theology, ed. Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003), 191.
11Kay Arthur, Lord, I Need Grace to Make it, (Waterbrook Pr., 1989), 19, 21.
12Ryrie, The Grace of God, 25.
13Charles Swindoll, Grace Awakening, (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1990), 9.
16Hermann Cremer, Biblio-Theological Lexicon of New Testament Greek (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1878 as quoted by Ralph Earle, Word Meanings in the New Testament One-Volume Edition (Baker Book House, 1974), 132.
17Ryrie, The Grace of God, 22.
18Dudley Hall, Grace Works (Multnomah Pub., 2000), 64.
19William Ames, The Marrow of Theology, Translated from the Third Latin edition, 1629 (Baker Books, 1968), 129, 130.
20Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck, General Editors, Understanding Christian Theology (Nelson, 2003), 336.
21R. L. Reymond, "Incarnation," in Evangelical dictionary of Theology, Walter A. Elwell, Ed. (Baker Book House, 1984), 555.
23Cleon L. Rogers, Jr. and Cleon L. Rogers, III, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament (Zondervan, 1998), 178.
24Tullian Tchividjian, Jesus + Nothing = Everything (Crossway, 2011), 160, 161.
25Hall, Grace Works, 59.
26"This underscores the contrast to the grace given through the Mosaic Law and the grace that appears with the advent of Christ." Rogers and Rogers, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key, 178.
28"Here we meet the term grace for the first time in this Epistle." Ralph Earle, Word Meanings in the New Testament One-Volume Edition (Baker Book House, 1974), 132.
29BAGD, 650. "More than enough." Rogers and Rogers, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key, 326.
32Earle, Word Meanings, 303.
33Sarah Young, Jesus Calling (Nashville: Integrity Publishers, 2004), 359.
34A.T. Robertson's Word Pictures on Matthew 1:21. [emphasis added]
35Adam Clarke's Commentary on Matthew 1:21. [emphasis his]
36Albert Barnes' New Testament Commentary on Matthew 1:21. [emphasis his]
37http://www.studylight.org/com/guz/view.cgi?book=mt&chapter=1&verse=1#Mt1_1 [emphasis his]
38Swindoll is referring to a quote by Martyn Lloyd-Jones in, The Grace Awakening, 39, 40.
39Tullian Tchividjian, Jesus + Nothing = Everything (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2011), 100, 101.
41Michael Wells, Sidetracked in the Wilderness (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991), 177.
42Tchividjian, Jesus, 95.
43Jerry Bridges, Transforming Grace, 11.
46Tchividjian, Jesus, 95.
47Ralph Earle, Word Meanings in the New Testament One-Volume Edition (Baker Book House, 1974), 159.
48A.T. Robertson's Word Pictures on Romans 5:2.
49Tchividjian, Jesus, 37.
50Rogers and Rogers, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key, 430.
51"Our hard word, therefore, means coming to a greater understanding of his work." Tchividjian, Jesus, 96.
52Steve Brown, A Scandalous Freedom (Howard Pub. Co, LA: 2004), 165.
54J. Carl Laney, Jr., "God," in Understanding Christian Theology, ed. Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003), 191.
55Swindoll, The Grace Awakening, 13.
56Tchividjian, Jesus, 121.
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